Washington Wants to Lower BAC Levels

Proposed Law to Keep Pressure on Drunken Drivers

As alcohol-related deaths stop decline, new tools sought

Saturday, Dec. 27, 1997 · Page A 8
©1997 San Francisco Examiner

By Judy Holland

EXAMINER WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON – Anti-drunken driving campaigns have helped reduce the
number of alcohol-related fatalities 30 percent in the past 14 years,
according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But in the past four years, the rate of alcohol-related fatalities has
stopped declining, prompting lawmakers and safety groups to look for new
ways to stop drinking-related crashes.

One approach is pending in Congress where Sens. Frank Lautenberg,
D-N.J., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., have
introduced legislation to encourage states to lower the drunken-driving
threshold.

The legislation would require states that already haven’t to change
their drunken-driving laws to lower the blood alcohol content level from
0.1 percent to 0.08 percent within three years. States that fail to
follow the federal rule would get docked 5 percent of their federal
highway funds in the first year and 10 percent in the second year.

The legislation is expected to be attached early next year to a bill
reauthorizing funding for the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act,
which funds highway projects. The Clinton administration, the National
Transportation Safety Board and many groups that campaign against drunken
driving back the bill.

Even before Congress takes up the proposal, California and 14 other
states already have lowered the legally acceptable blood alcohol level to
0.08 percent. The others are Utah, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, North
Carolina, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia,
Hawaii, Alabama, Idaho and Illinois.

The campaign against drunken driving is credited with reducing
alcohol-related traffic fatalities from 25,165 in 1982 to 17,126 in 1996.
However, the rate has stayed essentially the same since 1992.

Brandy Anderson, assistant director of public policy for Mothers
Against Drunk Driving, said the problem of driving drunk was far from
solved.

“It will take a comprehensive effort, both legislation and better
enforcement,” Anderson said, adding that she expected a tough battle over
the legislation.

“We expect the alcohol industry to fight this bill tooth and nail,”
she said. “They have a lot of power and money.”

Toughening drunken-driving standards could save hundreds of lives each
year, she contended.

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